11 May 2007

Instead of killer bees it's bee killers

Are GM Crops Killing Bees?

A mysterious decimation of bee populations has German beekeepers worried, while a similar phenomenon in the United States is gradually assuming catastrophic proportions. The consequences for agriculture and the economy could be enormous.

Genetic engineering introduces new proteins into food sources. By introducing new genetic information into food producing organisms, we take the risk of creating mutations to the DNA, which can alter the metabolism of the product. By altering its metabolism, the product can be made into an allergen or toxin. The toxins produced can accumulate, causing each subsequent generation to be less healthy and more toxic. These modifications can also cause the food organism to stop production of certain vitamins and nutrients, reducing the nutritional properties of the food. In short, mutations can interfere with vital functions in an organism, forever altering the food source. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that new additives be established safe through testing prior to marketing. Because the organisms used in bioengineering already exist, they are 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) and therefore exempt from the usual testing required by the FDA.

The FDA looks at bioengineered food as being the substantial equivalent of the same food not bioengineered. While in theory this would be true, in actuality selected characteristics are the only things being compared. If the selected characteristics show no significant difference, the bioengineered product is a substantial equivalent. The thinking that there is no significant difference is flawed. The testing is limited to chemical and biochemical analytical procedures and tests are looking only at specific nutrient, toxin, and allergen data concerning the known characteristics of the introduced gene. Not testing the entire organism as a whole leaves a wide margin for error. Introducing a new gene makes a new food with its own genetic makeup. In 1989, genetically engineered tryptophan was introduced as a nutritional supplement in the United States. Tests ran showed that it was indeed a substantial equivalent and was 99.6% pure tryptophan. This altered tryptophan also contained traces of a highly toxic contaminant, making up only 0.01% of the total mass, but this product caused thousands of consumers to become ill. Of the thousands who became ill, 37 died while 1500 were permanently disabled. Unintended consequences are always a possibility. Testing for a wide array of allergens and toxins must be in place to ensure the safety of bioengineered foods. Labeling of bioengineered food must also be mandatory, as this will allow the consumer to choose. With current regulations and laws, we would never allow foods that contain pork or peanuts on the market without proper labeling on ethics alone, not to mention the associated safety concerns. The current state regarding bioengineered foods and the lack of testing places the FDA at the top of its own list of lawbreakers.

CauliFlower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) is an engineered virus; a virus whose genome humans alter. The DNA of CaMV is a suspected carcinogen and is related to human diseases AIDS and Hepatitis B. The grain from one ear of corn contains hundreds of millions of the CaMV DNA. CaMV is a viral vector that is used in generating bioengineered foods; BT Corn is one such bioengineered food that uses CaMV. Meat from poultry and milk from cows have absorbed CaMV. Without proper testing, we have no way of knowing how this will play out in humans. When naturally replicated, problems do not arise. With human manipulation, we introduce human fallibility. We think of this as being impossible, no way can a human become ill from a plant virus. We used to believe it would be impossible to become ill from a virus that affects animals.

Bioengineered products have only been on the market a relatively short time and we have no way of knowing what the long-term health effects will be. These products can produce new toxins and allergens not previously known. Pollination means plants cannot be controlled. Birds, bees, and butterflies, doing what they are made to do, could be spreading genes everywhere, causing unintended consequences the world over. With the possibility of genes, transferring from one species to the next, might resistant superbugs be on the next horizon. Bacteria, fungi, and viruses have been reinventing themselves for millennia to ensure their own survival. Are we so arrogant as to presume they will stop now?
Twango ©

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